Spokane Public Schools Releases Investigation Into Cotton Cleaning Lesson

Jul 31, 2021

Spokane Public Schools
Credit Spokane Public Schools

This spring two black students at Sacajawea Middle School said their teacher had subjected them to an offensive, and traumatizing lesson where they were told to clean cotton in class. Spokane Public Schools hired a third-party to investigate a complaint filed by the ACLU on the student’s behalf.

That investigation was released to the public Friday.

According to the report, investigators verified that a cotton cleaning lesson did occur, but students were not forced to participate.

The investigators also found that the two students were subjected to offensive comments from their peers, with other children saying during the lesson that if they were black, or enslaved, they would kill themselves.

Investigators found the teacher did not mean to harm the students with the lesson, and had discussed more context around it the days before, when the two students were not in attendance. They found the administrator who the student’s mother first reported her concerns to had defended the teacher, and did not initiate a formal investigation when a parent complained.

In a statement released Friday, the Spokane Public Schools District apologized for the incident, saying their goal is to quote “deeply learn and understand the source of harm and prevent it from happening in the future.”

According to the statement, the district is working to implement cultural competency and responsive training for all staff due to a racial equity resolution the school board approved last year. There will also be a panel in August to discuss racial equity, though a date and attendance details have not yet been announced.

The family is represented by the ACLU, which released a statement critical of the district’s response, saying they did not outline a plan to address the incident, the harm the students were subjected too, or address how to safely return students to the classroom afterward.

Kendrick Washington, youth policy counsel for the ACLU Washington called the district irresponsible, saying they should not have released the report without a plan, and said it showed the district was still mishandling the incident.